Cite as: Austin, T., 2019, "Benefaction, processing, exclusion: documentary representations of refugees and migrants in Fortress Europe", Studies in European Cinema, DOI: 10.1080/17411548.2019.1603029
This essay examines representations of migrants and asylum seekers in some recent documentaries, largely made by white Europeans. I pay particular attention to questions of agency, voice and individuation, and the mediation, distribution, or evacuation of these elements of subjectivity. In contrast to the indifference or outright hostility with which migrants and refugees have often been treated, a well-intentioned but Eurocentric trope, evident in Ode to Lesvos, is the attempt made by ‘ordinary’ citizens to offer hospitality to those arriving at the continent’s borders. On the other hand, Les Sauteurs (Those Who Jump) presents migrants’ own actions as in part a form of political resistance. Finally, I consider how Gianfranco Rosi’s Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) and Thomas Østbye’s Imagining Emanuel interrogate the scrutiny, discipline and control endured by asylum seekers and migrants, processes that form part of the unmarked and unremarked upon Žižekian ‘objective violence’ that sustains the European system. These documentaries also offer reminders of the common technologies and routine procedures shared by filmmakers and the modern state’s legal apparatus, as both test veracity and attempt to produce the human subject as knowable.
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